Friday, July 29, 2011

Norway terror attack exposes deeper anger over immigration

The admitted attacker behind last week's bombing and shooting spree derided immigration and multiculturalism. Experts say his beliefs are surprisingly common in Norway. They would be less surprised if they stopped turning a blind eye to Muslim behavior

Last week's Oslo terrorist attacks are raising delicate questions of immigration and integration here after the admitted attacker cited anti-Muslim views as motivating the assaults.

A country of less than 5 million people, Norway has seen its once homogeneous population change in recent years with new arrivals from Africa and the Middle East. This transformation, in part, drove Anders Behring Breivik, charged with Friday's car bombing and shooting spree that killed at least 76 people in the span of a few hours.

Now, even as this country still grieves for its victims, many say how Norway responds to the attacks could define immigration policy in the future.

While Mr. Breivik's views, revealed in his 1,500-page tirade against Muslims and multiculturalism, are extreme and his attack reviled by Norwegians of all political leanings, Breivik fed on an undercurrent of prejudice and hatred that exists in some areas of Norwegian society, where being Norwegian is still very much determined by one’s fair skin and light hair.

“We have to find out what kind of country Norway is. That’s where the struggle is going to be in the coming years,” says Thomas Eriksen, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oslo. “And we are going to have to deal with that.”

He says many immigrants still face an uphill battle in terms of integration and acceptance from their fellow Norwegians. “They can acquire our civilization but never our culture,” he says, offering up a common opinion. “In other words, they won’t be ‘us’ they’ll always be the ‘other’.”

Indeed, experts on immigration and integration point to a growing skepticism across Norway that now surrounds most Muslim immigrants. Though Breivik’s thinking is condemned, many of his views aren’t new.

“Some of his ideas are more commonplace than we’d like them to be,” says Rune Berglund Steen, communication manager for the Norwegian Center Against Racism. "This skepticism of Muslims has become a fairly central topic in Norwegian politics.”

Norway’s second-largest political party in parliament, the Progress Party, has been accused of backing xenophobic positions and Breivik was on the party’s member registry until 2006. The party quickly denounced the attacks and Breivik’s beliefs.

Mr. Steen says most Norwegians have a positive view toward immigrants. For example, he said a recent poll found that about 8 out of 10 Norwegians found it favorable if a child attends a school with mixed ethnicities.

But for Breivik and his ilk, Muslim newcomers here represent a "takeover."

“The problem can only be solved if we completely remove those who follow Islam. In order to do this all Muslims must ‘submit’ and convert to Christianity,” he wrote in his manifesto. “If they refuse to do this voluntarily prior to Jan. 1, 2020, they will be removed from European soil and deported back to the Islamic world.”

Most Norwegians, however, reject Breivik’s anti-Islamic views, preferring to see themselves as a tolerant, peaceful people and Breivik as a backwards extremist. “It’s the fact that he attacked our multiculturalism,” says Alexander Roine, waiting outside the courthouse where Breivik appeared Monday.

Mr. Roine, an Oslo native whose father came from Tunisia, says Norway is rightly famous for its peaceful, tolerant attitude but conceded older generations are still adjusting to the country’s brisk demographic shift.

“We would think a guy with these views would be like 50 or 60 years old,” he says of Breivik. “This guy was born in a Norway that was already multicultural. He attacked everything this country stands for to the last detail.”

Norway has experienced a steady rise in immigration, like many European countries, with the number of its immigrants doubling since 1995.

Most came for the robust economy, political stability and generous welfare state, settling in dense pockets [Otherwise known as "ghettoes"] in Norway’s largest cities. It’s estimated that 11 percent of Norwegians are immigrants or the children of immigrants and about 2 percent of the population practices Islam.


Georgia Enlists Citizens to Battle Illegal Aliens

The state’s controversial new immigration enforcement law cedes the power to punish wayward officials to a citizens panel

Georgia is about to embark on a bold experiment in privatization. Starting next year, officials in the state—mayors, county commissioners, and even business license clerks—could face $5,000 fines from a panel of citizen volunteers empowered by the state to investigate complaints about lax enforcement of immigration laws. The body will also have the authority to strip funding from local governments.

The first-of-its-kind Immigration Enforcement Review Board is part of Georgia’s new immigration statute, one of the toughest in the country. The law, which took effect on July 1, has already provoked a federal lawsuit and a court injunction—and led to a shortage of fruit and vegetable pickers during the harvest season. There were 425,000 illegal immigrants in Georgia in 2009, making up 4.3 percent of the state’s population, according to the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.

Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, says the board’s seven unpaid members will be named in the next few months and he expects the panel to begin its work in January. The law doesn’t offer any guidelines on who may be eligible to sit on the board.

D.A. King, a Georgia activist who helped shape the new law, is pleased with the results. “It is a significant step in that we have expanded Georgia law to intentionally make life very, very difficult and insecure for people who hire illegal immigrants, the illegals themselves, and the anti-enforcement politicians.”

Charles Kuck, a lawyer who is part of a team challenging the law, says the review panel will increase paperwork and waste money without any effect on illegal immigration. “It’s like a mini-McCarthy panel,” he says, referring to the Wisconsin Senator’s investigations of supposed Communists in the 1950s.

More than 10,000 protesters marched on the state capital on the day the law took effect. Just days before that, a federal court in Atlanta blocked some key provisions of the statute. One would allow police in the state to check the immigration status of people detained for even minor infractions such as disorderly conduct or running a red light. The court acted in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several others groups.

The ACLU case did not challenge the legality of the Immigration Review Board. A Georgia law from 2006 already requires state officials to use national immigration databases to determine the legal status of non-citizens applying for state and municipal jobs, business licenses, or other types of benefits. The panel will be responsible for complaints submitted by registered voters in the state and determining whether public officials are complying with that law.

Many of them probably aren’t. In the past year just five jurisdictions in the state have reported receiving a business license application from someone whose legal status was unverifiable. Nan Riegle, the part-time city clerk and sole government official of Parrott, Ga., a 156-person hamlet three hours south of Atlanta, reported “an Indian guy” who wanted to renew a license for a convenience store. Riegle tried to look him up in the national database but “couldn’t get the system to work,” she recalls. “It is horrible. These little towns, we have so many mandates coming out of Atlanta, our workload has doubled.”

Riegle calls the enforcement board a “crappy” idea but says she’ll do her best to comply, if only to avoid the consequences. “I can’t afford to get my little town fined.”

The bottom line: Georgia has raised the immigration debate to a new level by empowering citizens to police enforcement of the state’s tough new law.


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